Thank you for the opportunity to respond to the recent article entitled, “Can This Be Adventism?”. Overall, I do not believe that the article represents a fair picture, because I actually resonate with the author’s basic concern regarding hermeneutics—our biblical hermeneutics must be Christological, open for discussion and transparent. So, I am puzzled by the portrait of me as being against serious discussion of hermeneutics. I think that the way forward with regard to hermeneutics is to sit down, listen carefully to each other, and then talk and write.
The truth is that I do not recognize myself in the picture the author is painting. My decision is taken out of context and put into an overall negative construct suggesting that the Seminary, and I in particular, are against a public discussion on biblical hermeneutics. This assumption is far from true. The Seminary convenes various programs, colloquia, conferences, etc., and conferences are lined up for many years ahead. This year we will hold a conference on Jesus and Politics, and we are finalizing plans for upcoming conferences on Discipleship; Social Justice; Adventist Identity and Biblical Hermeneutics. Hermeneutics is actually one of the issues at the top of my list to address in a Seminary conference, but different Seminary departments have their priorities too, and we decide together the topics to be presented.
There are many different ways to initiate and be part of the conversation on hermeneutical issues, so if one of the venues is not available right away (for various reasons), why not use another? For example, even though I was also not invited to write a chapter for the Biblical Research Institute (BRI) book on hermeneutics, I understand that editors have to make choices, sometimes even tough decisions and can’t involve all possible authors. I am sure that BRI will welcome book reviews, reflections and reactions after the volume is published.
My concerns about hermeneutics go beyond rote assumptions. I have just finished lecturing on Biblical Hermeneutics for sixteen bright Andrews University doctoral students. During this two-week intensive course, we struggled with biblical as well as contemporary issues on the basis of relational and principled-based hermeneutics. We were focused on building Christ-centered, as well as Trinity-centered hermeneutics, and made clear differences between literal, literalistic and figurative meanings of the biblical text. The theological metanarrative rooted in history and the context of the studied text with its literary structure formed our framework. I often used phrases like “be consistent,” or “be brutally honest,” with your conclusions, processes, and constructs. Rather than questioning the truth of the biblical text, I argued that one should “criticize and heavily question” one’s own presuppositions, pre-understandings, assumptions, and worldview. The biblical text, i.e. God’s revelation, must inform our processes and ultimately be the basis for deciding whether our conclusions are sound.
I am not naïve. Even the best organized conferences do not solve the problem we face in the Church regarding the interpretation of the Bible. However, I do believe that each step toward this goal is helpful and worth our effort. Our understanding of biblical hermeneutics (whether well informed and educated, or implicit and unexamined) permeates all we do. Our actions reveal what kind of hermeneutical system we advocate, and it will be well for us all to continue the dialogue in a spirit of collegiality.
This article was written by Jiří Moskala, Dean, SDA Theological Seminary, Andrews University. Image from unsplash.
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